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Blu-ray Group Predicts Win In Format War

LAS VEGAS — Undeterred by recent announcements of hybrid HD DVD/Blu-ray Disc players and dual-format optical discs, backers of the Blu-ray Disc format issued bold forecasts for a complete Blu-ray victory in the ongoing format war during a press conference for the Blu-ray Disc Association at International CES, here, Monday.

“We believe Blu-ray has what it takes to win the format war,” proclaimed Andy Parsons, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association promotion committee chairman for the U.S. region, and senior VP of new product development for Pioneer Electronics U.S.

Parsons said chief among Blu-ray’s advantages is a strong list of titles released since the format launch, and “Blu-ray now leads in the number of title releases over HD DVD.”

The Blu-ray Disc format lists the support of seven major studios, five of which are exclusive to Blu-ray in high-definition discs, Parsons pointed out.

To underscore the power of its support base, Parsons pointed to the top 20 selling DVD titles in 2006, and said that all but four are distributed by companies supporting Blu-ray Disc, and of the remaining four, only one is exclusive to the HD DVD format.

Parsons pointed to a research company called GFK, which indicated that by the end of the fourth quarter of 2006, Blu-ray Disc player penetration has reached 96 percent of the player market in Japan. “In terms of Japan, the game’s already over there,” Parsons proclaimed.

As for Blu-ray’s equally lopsided hardware manufacturing support, Parsons said “there is a very close association with brands of HDTV monitors in our view.” Five of the top HDTV manufacturing brands have released Blu-ray Disc players, he noted.

Parsons shared data from U.K.-based market research firm Understanding and Solutions “seems that they are saying that by the year 2010, Blu-ray will pretty much have taken the game in terms of hardware sales.”

As for Sony’s announcement here that it has shipped 1 million PlayStation 3 players as of Dec. 31, Parsons cited a Sony PlayStation3-purchaser survey showing 80 percent of respondents plan to purchase Blu-ray Disc movie titles to play on their PS3 and 75 percent plan to use their PS3s as a primary device for playing back Blu-ray Disc movies.

“If you look at it, 80 percent of 1 million equals 800,000 units of the installed base all hungry for high-definition content to hit the market,” Parsons said. “This should be very reassuring. Blu-ray Disc represents the safe buy. The format is not going to go away any time soon.”

Home video presidents of the major Blu-ray supporting studios all pledged unwavering support for Blu-ray at the press event.

Mike Dunn, president of Twentieth Century Fox World Wide Home Entertainment, proclaimed “the format war’s in its final phase.”

He said Fox based its entire decision to remain exclusive to Blu-ray Disc on “where we think the consumer is going to be.”

Dunn pointed to market research showing sales of Blu-ray Disc eclipsed HD DVD in weekly sales by 21 percent as of Dec. 24. “If you track that out through the first quarter on a conservative basis you have a 3.5:1 ratio in Blu-ray to HD DVD sales, and at that point it gets difficult for the retailer to commit to both formats,” he said.

In 2007 Fox will continue to be aggressive with the release of interactive BD-Java-based titles, releasing seven to 10 titles from Fox and MGM per month, according to Dunn. Most of those will be dual-layer 50GB discs. Up coming releases over the next six months will include “Independence Day,” “Man of Fire,” Master and Commander” and “iRobot.”

Upcoming MGM titles will include “Silence of the Lambs,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Dances with Wolves” and others.

Fox will also continue with its “day-and-date” release strategy on new titles that started with “Ice Age,” and “The Devil Wears Prada” in the fourth quarter of 2006. Upcoming new day-and-date releases will include “Night at the Museum,” he said.

Steve Beeks, Lionsgate World Wide Home Entertainment president, said his studio continues to be a strong supporter of Blu-ray, and “the unmatched capacity of the Blu-ray Disc and the support of manufacturers and studios give us confidence that Blu-ray will be catalyst for continued growth of packaged media well into the future,” said Beeks. “We expect 2007 to be the year in which Blu-ray establishes itself as the format of the future.”

The studio currently has 10 Blu-ray titles in release with 18 slated by the end of February. Lionsgate will have “40 to 50 Blu-ray titles in release by the end of 2007,” he said. Among the upcoming releases will be “Crank,” which is encoded on 50GB disc offering a significantly expanded “enhanced movie view experience. Over the next two weeks the studio will release the Jessica Simpson and Dane Cook comedy “Employee of the Month,” and all three movies in the “Saw” horror trilogy.

Kelley Avery, Paramount World Wide Home Entertainment president, said she expects Blu-ray to soon begin “to expand beyond the early adopter and into the mainstream.” Next month, the studio will offer the day-and-date Blu-ray release of “Bable,” starring Brad Pitt and Kate Blanchett, followed by Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of our Fathers.” Slated library releases on Blu-ray Disc include “Payback” and “Face Off.”

“The key to continuing success,” she said, “is the industry’s unwavering support of high definition and ongoing education of consumers.”

David Bishop, Sony Pictures World Wide Entertainment president, said his company “has seen a 700 percent increase in [Blu-ray] software sales” since the launch of Sony’s PS3.

Sony Pictures will be targeting 90 to 100 title releases, both catalog and new releases, in 2007, he said. First quarter releases will include “Casino Royale,” “Grid Iron Gang,” “Open Season,” “Running with Scissors” and “Stranger Than Fiction.” Sony is using BD-50 discs on almost half of the Blu-ray releases, he said.

Ron Sanders, Warner Brothers World Wide Home Entertainment president, said the studio released 33 titles into the Blu-ray format last year, and claims the No. 1 selling title position with “Superman Returns.” In 2007, the studio will be “even more aggressive,” he said, with planned Blu-ray releases including the date-and-date release of “The Departed” two weeks before the Oscars.

Other new releases slated for this month include “Beer Fest,” and “Wicker Man.” Planned library titles include “Goodfellas,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “Enter The Dragon” the “Harry Potter” series, “Oceans 11,” “Oceans 12” and “Oceans 13” and the “The Matrix” trilogy.

Bob Chapek, Buena Vista World Wide Home Entertainment president, said Walt Disney Studios plans over 20 Blu-ray titles within the first half of the year, most of which will include a world wide rollout strategy. Titles will include “Con Air,” “Crimson Tide,” “The Rock,” “Chicken Little,” “Remember the Titans,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and “Cars.”

Many of the studio’s newer releases will use BD-Java interactive extras and BD-50 discs, he said.

Meanwhile, the Blu-ray Disc Association is having a drawing for a Blu-ray Disc player every day of the show at booth 11606 at CES.